Thursday, May 8, 2003

EPA to detail cleanup of lead in Liberty Township subdivision



By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP - Federal environmental authorities are expected to announce their plan tonight to clean up a subdivision that is under investigation for lead contamination.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials will meet with Lexington Manor homeowners at 7 p.m. at Liberty Township Hall, 6400 Princeton Road.

Owners of land adjacent to the subdivision who are concerned about runoff water onto their property also plan to attend.

Details will not be available until this evening of a plan to remove lead from the 25-acre site, which formerly held a skeet-shooting range, said Mick Hans, a U.S. EPA spokesman.

"We are very focused on this, and it is a priority," Hans said.

The EPA has the authority under the Superfund toxic-waste cleanup program to have the soil removed and to pursue reimbursements from the responsible private parties.

The goal, however, is to have the parties perform the cleanup, EPA officials have said.

Last week, an attorney for the subdivision's builder, Ryland Homes, announced it would halt home sales and construction at the site.

The statement came weeks after residents held a press conference to publicly plead with the home builder to stop until the lead issues are resolved.

The attorney, Chris Habel, and Ryland officials have refused interviews about the subdivision since last month and instead have issued written statements reaffirming Ryland's desire to rectify the situation for its homeowners and to work with environmental authorities.

Habel, however, told the Los Angeles Times for a Tuesday article that Ryland will not buy back any of Lexington Manor homes or refund deposits, as some have requested.

Most of the 46 lots in the subdivision have been sold, according to Ryland.

Later Tuesday, Anne Madison, a Ryland spokeswoman, said Habel's remarks to the Times were a "miscommunication."

A decision whether Ryland will repurchase homes has not been made, she stressed.

After high lead levels were detected in a yard at Lexington Manor last year, residents notified the Ohio EPA, which began an investigation.

Since that time, Ryland has paid for two rounds of soil testing in yards and was about to begin a third that also would outline cleanup boundaries.

But last month, OEPA asked the federal agency to head the investigation, so now Ryland is waiting for direction from it on how to proceed.

In March, nearly 20 families sued Ryland; the subdivision's developer, Lexington Manor Inc., which sold the land to Ryland; and other companies.

The homeowners allege that Ryland was aware of the high lead levels but withheld that information. The suit seeks punitive damages from Ryland, Lexington Manor Inc. and companies involved in lead remediation at the site.

Ryland knew of the high lead levels, Madison has acknowledged, but maintains the company was not obligated to inform residents because it received assurance the land was safe for homes.

E-mail: jedwards@enquirer.com.




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